Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2008

Remembering dad’s colorful, cussed ways

May 29, 2008

After we'd placed the flowers on Sunday, the evening before Memorial Day, it occurred to me something was missing. I had to look around for a few seconds to realize what it was: There was no flag on Dad's grave. Looking around the cemetery, I could see quite a few flags of differing sizes fluttering in the breeze, but his was bereft of any decoration save the flowers we had just tipped into the vase that's part of the bronze tablet.

Veterans organizations used to place flags on all the veterans' graves in the cemetery where my mother and stepfather are buried, but a telephone call to my sister revealed they have discontinued the practice. Now, families who want to can collect a flag when they come into the cemetery on Memorial Day.

I nearly went out and bought a flag, but it was getting late and my sister said she was going out Monday and would get one at that time, so that's where we left it.

He would have wanted the flag. Like most of his generation, he was proud of his Army service in World War II. Not that he had any special regard for the Army as an institution, however; like a lot of draftees, he held the Army in a sort of amused contempt. That attitude is pretty much universal among those of us who have served but elected not to make it our career.

He had, in some respects, a rough life. He was the youngest of eight children of a horse-and-mule trader in western Kansas. He left school after the eighth grade and tried several occupations before he became a truck driver around the age of 20.

He was the sort who seemed never to have met a stranger. I often thought he could talk with anyone about anything - and ignorance of a subject was no bar to talking about it.

He was a truck driver, and he had the habits of that breed. He drank and smoked and cursed about as well as anyone I ever met. Some of those habits he gave up as he got older and the family grew, of course.

He smoked Roi-Tan Presidents, although it usually seemed that he would light one end and chew on the other until they met somewhere in the middle. His habit of chewing cigars meant that he often had to spit, which meant anytime the family went for a ride in the car, the one position you didn't want to occupy was the left side in the back. In his later years, he gave up cigars, although he still chewed one from time to time.

He was a poet laureate of profanity. It seemed like he could curse for five minutes and never say the same word twice. I grew up knowing a number of colorful sayings and metaphors that I dared not repeat in mixed company.

His cursing was such a part of his vocabulary that he often embarrassed my mother. (I confess, the rest of us usually just giggled.) One time, a lady who was a sort of youth minister or counselor at our church came over to the house and he was describing something that happened on the road with his normal color and verve. The lady was a good sport, I remember, but she was so unnerved by his descriptions that she fairly chortled in response.

He was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of guy, and we all miss him. He would want his flag.


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